Aug
31

Which Hughes will it be?

By

If you’re not into pessimism I suggest skipping this post.

The good news is that the Phil Hughes facing the Red Sox tonight is not the same pitcher who faced them in April. At that time Hughes had no zip on his fastball, no bite to his breaking ball, and no command of either. Through two innings he threw 47 pitches to 14 batters, allowing six runs on seven hits and two walks. That performance provided the Red Sox with their first win of the 2011 campaign. After one more horrific start Hughes hit the DL, and he’s been quite better since returning.

The bad news is that Hughes resembled his early season self in his last start. While he did pitch into the third, his results weren’t much better than his outing in Boston earlier this season: six runs on seven hits. His only saving graces were the five strikeouts and zero walks. Even still, he used 78 pitches to record eight outs. Even worse, he again failed to put batters away, generating strings of foul balls on two-strike pitches. That’s the Hughes the Yankees can’t afford to have on the mound tonight and for the rest of the season.

For a while it appeared that Hughes was turning a corner. While he failed to put away batters in his first four starts back from the DL, something changed when he faced Chicago in early August. He didn’t miss many bats — just 14 swings and misses out of 267 pitches thrown in three starts — but he also didn’t struggle to finish at-bats. He needed just 65 pitches to get through six innings in Chicago, and followed that up with 96 pitches in six innings against Tampa Bay. That’s not efficient, but it’s an improvement. Then against Minnesota it appeared he cared nothing for the strikeout, recording just two while allowing 22 of 27 batters to put the ball in play. The result was his best start of the season, 7.2 innings of one-run ball.

That strategy won’t play as well against the Red Sox, though. While Hughes can work through weaker lineups such as the White Sox and the Twins by pitching to contact, the Red Sox are a completely different beast. They lead the majors in average and BABIP. At the same time, if Hughes tries to miss bats again he can fall into an even worse trap. The Red Sox are still a patient and disciplined team that will foul away flat, borderline pitches while waiting for something to hit or else taking a walk. It leaves Hughes with little room to maneuver. Command or perish. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen much from him in terms of command this season.

In this way it’s hard to see Hughes succeeding against the Red Sox this evening. It’s certainly possible; we have seen him spot his fastball low and away at times, and his curveball isn’t always as bad as it was last week. At the same time, his start is of the utmost importance. The Yankees will use only five starters the next time through the rotation. If Hughes fails tonight then the Yankees have a no-win situation in the fifth spot. They’d have to rely on A.J. Burnett to turn around his season, which is about as likely as Hughes suddenly finding his command against the Red Sox tonight.

No one should count out a pitcher before a game starts, not even A.J. Burnett. But that doesn’t mean we can’t set reasonable expectations. With the way he’s pitched lately, it’s difficult to reasonably imagine Hughes faring well this evening, just as it’s difficult to imagine Burnett doing the same tomorrow. Their recent history suggests that they’re primed for a beating against one of the league’s most powerful offenses. It might matter little in the immediate future; the Yanks have a comfortable lead in the playoff race, after all. But in the long term it’s certainly an issue. While Hughes has succeeded at times this season, his skill set just doesn’t seem to play up against the Bostons and the Texases of the American League.

Categories : Musings

78 Comments»

  1. MattG says:

    Boo. I was expecting pessimism, and all I got was a level-headed assessment of what is. Hiss.

  2. Kosmo says:

    Career-wise during the regular season Texas has as yet failed to score a single ER off of Hughes. Boston on the other hand ….
    Hughes has in the past pitched well in September.

  3. Alibaba says:

    I feel that the Good Hughes will show up today. If that happens, 6.2 IP with 1 ER is not unreasonable. Keeping my fingers crossed…

  4. Johnny O says:

    TNSTAAPP

  5. Monteroisdinero says:

    Pitch inside with authority Phil and all will be well.

    • MattG says:

      Interesting. Your contention is that Hughes is not commanding the inside part of the plate? Is that to lefties, or all hitters?

      I will look for that tonight. I haven’t noticed it, but I’ve been pre-occupied with the radar gun and crappy location overall.

    • David, Jr. says:

      He needs to match Beckett in pitching inside. Not hitting people, but making them uncomfortable.

    • Mike says:

      Pitch inside to Adrián and he will kill every pitch, i know, i’ve watched him play since he was a youngster in Tijuana, then in Mazatlán in the winter mexican league, and later, at San Diego (minutes away from Tijuana, Baja California, México, where Adrián is from).

  6. Rey22 says:

    Top prospect Hughes, where have thou gone?

  7. Bartolo's Colon says:

    its depressing that there is really no reason to hope that he will have a good outing tonight, however it sure would be awesome if he did. what can really be expected of hughes going forward, can we expect him to have a bounceback year in 2012 and be consistently effective? Is he going to be on yet another innings limit?

  8. Al says:

    Regarding skill set, Joe, what do you mean? Hughes is definitely no shmuck.

  9. Sarah says:

    I’m anxious for Phil. But on the other hand, I was really anxious about Freddy’s last start against Boston, and it went pretty well.
    It’s going to come down to the offense (Beckett isn’t THAT good) and the bullpen (which is THAT good).

  10. If Hughes fails tonight then the Yankees have a no-win situation in the fifth spot. They’d have to rely on A.J. Burnett to turn around his season, which is about as likely as Hughes suddenly finding his command against the Red Sox tonight.

    Meh, it’s the fifth spot. Either Hughes or Burnett or some combination of the two (or even Noesi or Warren or Brackman or whatever) can pitch in it for a month and whatever happens, happens. It won’t affect much of anything.

    Even if he fails tonight against the Sox, though, it doesn’t mean that’s a wrap on his season. He’s clearly the 5th option in the 4 man race for a playoff rotation slot (and AJ’s the 6th), but a few good outings following this one, even if it’s bad… who knows?

    • CP says:

      I generally having a problem with determining a pitcher’s role in the rotation based on one start against the best offense in the AL (that he would actually face). A bad start tonight could solidify the fact that he will be in the pen come the playoffs, but I don’t think it should have much impact on who’s the 5th starter for September.

      • Mike Axisa says:

        I think he’s in the bullpen come playoff time anyway, unless he has a monster September.

      • Mike HC says:

        It will have more to do if he is locating his pitches well and executing whatever game plan they put together. If the Sox hit good pitches because they have a really good offense, I don’t think they will hold that against him.

        But if he alternates meatballs with walks, he will be going in the wrong direction.

    • MattG says:

      Careful, lest Ted Nelson come down on you for stating the obvious a month before it need be stated.

  11. Billy Pilgrim says:

    If Hughes gets bombed tonight a decent outing by AJ on Thursday will bump Phil to the pen. If Hughes surprises then he’ll stay in the rotation regardless of what AJ does. I’m pulling for the kid tonight, it’s not his fault they ruined his arm.

  12. CP says:

    I find it interesting that Hughes’ two bad starts since coming back have both been against the A’s. Interestingly, they swing at the fewest pitches in the AL and have the highest contact rate in the AL (thanks RAB!). More importantly, they swing at the fewest pitches out of the strike zone.

    The Red Sox are much closer to league average in these stats, so it will be interesting to see how he fares against them. My gut tells me it will be a typical post-DL Hughes start: 5IP, 2R.

  13. Billy Pilgrim says:

    One thing Hughes does need to do tonight is set the tone by drilling a Sox player in the back. Don’t let Josh Beckett drill Cervelli first which you know he will. Set the tone, the ump will warn the benches, and then Beckett will get tossed if he throws at our guys.

  14. Mickey Scheister says:

    Hughes is…
    a) Better than AJ
    b) Equal to AJ
    c) Worse than AJ
    d) Too Inconsistent to tell

  15. MikeD says:

    I suspect he’ll be traded to Arizona in the off season where he’ll challenge for the NL Cy Young Award in 2012!

    Then again, if he’s part of a deal that nets the Yankees Justin Upton, I’ll be more than fine with it.

  16. Al says:

    Hughes is going to be good today lol… everyone has their poor starts, and other than that real clunker last start, he’s clearly been turning it around. Down season? Yes. Minimal potential? No way

  17. your mom says:

    Through two innings he threw 47 pitches to 14 batters, allowing six runs on seven hits and two walks. That performance provided the Red Sox with their first win of the 2011 campaign.

    Damn it! So it’s Hughes fault that they turned their season around. phuckin Phil!

    • Brian S. says:

      The Yankees should have started Colon, because we actually scored off of Lackey that game. We could have had them at 0-8 in no time, Francona may have even been fired!

    • Jesse says:

      “Through two innings he threw 47 pitches to 14 batters, allowing six runs on seven hits and two walks. That performance provided the Red Sox with their first win of the 2011 campaign.”

      /Dead Arm’d

  18. LarryM.,Fl. says:

    This is simple for me to state but I know much more difficult to execute. Phil Hughes needs to make the Red Sox’s uncomfortable with purpose pitches at shoulder/lower leg height. Pitch away to righties and in on the lefties. Thus using the big part of the ball park at all times. He has the stuff. Believe it and it can be done. The Yankees saw more in Phil Hughes than IK or JC. He was the one pitcher who could handle the AL East. I believe it. Tonight Phil Hughes will pitch a great game as long as pitches smart and doesn’t let the game speed him up.

    • your mom says:

      Your putting a lot of faith into his control. Don’t hold your breath.

      • was fun last night says:

        His control hasn’t been awful; it’s been the placement of his pitches that get him in trouble

        • your mom says:

          So are you saying he has control but chooses to place his pitches in favorable spots for the hitters? What a stubborn jack-ass!

          • was fun last night says:

            control in the sense that he doesn’t walk a crapload of people like AJ…although he’s been throwing a bit too many belt high meatballs

  19. DZ says:

    Hughes still has the highest upside at the major league level. Recently, he’s able to throw 4 pitches for strikes, most recently the change. Here’s my question,

    who will have the best season in 2016

    Hughes
    Nova
    Banuelos
    Betnaces

  20. Craig says:

    So, Hughes it gonna be?

  21. Monteroisdinero says:

    Sox will be all lefty batters except Gritty who hits anyone we have out there. Phil needs to throw heat inside to back batters out and command his offspeed stuff for strikes when he is behind in the count.

    otherwise he will get shelled.

  22. Yank The Frank says:

    It’s too bad we are batting first tonight. I do not doubt that Beckett will either hit someone in the first inning or knock someone down and set the tone. If by some chance that doesn’t happen Phil has got to man up and make them move their feet right from the start.

    • jdp says:

      We’re way too focused on this knock-down business.
      I’ve got a gut feeling Hughes will do poorly tonight.
      But you can’t predict baseball; maybe he’ll have a bunch of innings like Soriano’s inning last night: rockets getting caught.

    • Tom says:

      I think you’re right, that this is what he has to do. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen that kind of temperament in him. He seems a well-bred young guy from California, not the sort of guy you want for an east coast knife fight. I hope I’m wrong, cause he’ll be toast if he can’t work inside.

  23. Ted Nelson says:

    I don’t have a problem with expecting there’s a better chance of two bad starts than two good starts.

    The problem I have is with deciding much about Phil Hughes’ long-term future based on this season. Certainly possible he never recovers from whatever ails him. Also possible he does, though. I don’t think what we’re seeing is his real “skill set” at all. I think his skill set is at least what we saw on the whole of 2010, where he generated a lot more swings and misses than 2011 and was a fairly successful MLB starter. Not that the Red Sox were as good offensively last season, but he had 3 good starts against them and one bad.

    Short-term I also don’t expect much, but you do get random luck and/or brilliance in such a small sample…

  24. Steve says:

    It’s kind of sad, though, when at this point in his career, we are talking about him as if it would be a surprise if he pitched even decently and also that he doesn’t have the skills to deal with big time offenses.

  25. It’ll be Phil Phuckin’ Hughes in Phenway. Just watch.

  26. Kevin Ocala, Fl says:

    He better have the yakker tonight, or he’s toast.

  27. thaaaaaaaaaaaayankeeswin says:

    just turned on the game…is Martin hurt? why Cervi two games in a row?

  28. jb says:

    Phil is gutless

  29. jb says:

    Phil hughes is gutless.

  30. Xstar7 says:

    Evidently the shitty Hughes. He did get some tough breaks though. That “double” by Vagitek was about as lucky as it gets.

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